The Weight of Diversity

Few of the words that have become politically charged are more sacred than ‘diversity.’ As pagans, the concept of diversity is central to our perception of reality. There are many gods, each a divine, supernal reality unto themselves and from which ontological moments emerge into our awareness, but diversity as a political is rarely questioned. If it is, our presumption is that those doing the questioning are asserting a kind of primacy: white nationalists, black nationalists, neo-nazis, or even just conservatives have had this sort of assertion of primacy ascribed to them by liberals who seek to promote diversity by quelling certain specific systems of thought.

(N.B. This post will have links added in the near future.)

Usually at the Pagan Sermon I try to avoid a political voice, but here at the quarter moon and as an aside I will doff my deliberately assumed mantle of neutrality and speak as a citizen of the United States concerned with the narratives being advanced by several seemingly diverse groups who nevertheless are betraying the social contract which has for the most part of its history striven to cultivate diversity in the face of historical efforts to consolidate and strengthen a central homogeneity. For the purposes of this post, I am speaking of liberal and conservatives in the United States of America.

Diversity is a touchstone of liberals whose insistence that a diverse society is healthy both morally and literally. Conservatives may question precisely how diversity relates to issues of safety and economy, but the notion that the United States is and should be a country made up of diverse peoples is always already beyond question. This is to say that courting an argument against diversity makes you a pariah open to accusations of bigotry.

There is a hidden pitfall in this assumption that the United States is and should be diverse, namely the seeds of a conflict that has been growing at least for decades. Every now and then there will be a blog post or article calling liberals intolerant because of their insistence that others think as they do. Usually this comes after a liberal movement accuses some group or other as being unacceptably intolerant, and the pot-calling-the-kettle-black arguments start flying on social media until Godwin’s Law takes effect. The basic combatants are always the same: the liberals just want “liberty and justice for all” and the conservatives just want “liberty and justice for all.”

Of course it’s all infinitely more complex than that. You cannot really break people down into simple labels like “liberal” or “conservative.” Everyone is a heterogenous confluence of ideas and beliefs, and if you question anyone closely without invoking those polarized terms you will find that most people straddle the divide. Groups are even more complex with individuals promoting and working toward different agenda, but it is easier to classify groups because there is usually a primary motivator around which the individuals gather. The group’s cohesion persists only so long as it holds and advances this primary motivator.

This is where diversity becomes more difficult because the different motivations can clash. The basic liberal motivator is to reform society, improving it for future generations. The basic conservative motivator is to preserve what is good in society, and out of these two polarized motivations come every basic conflict between them. Now throw various sub-groups from eco-warriors and socialists to established political groups like republicans, democrats and libertarians into the mix and you have a strong potential for disaster …

… if there is not a common motivation that can allow them all to rise above their individual agenda to build a common group, a common society, a common identity that all can share. This is what people mean when they say “we are all Americans.” They are invoking that single greatest motivator that we should form a common society based on rational principles the sole purpose of which is to promote abundance and well being among its members: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

That in and of itself is not unique among the countries of the world. At least it isn’t any more. It is certainly arguable that the idealism and principles of the United States, its rhetoric and insistence on an equal measure of justice influenced the development of modern nations around the world.

Over the last thirty years, however, a group has formed which threatens this common social bond, not through an overt hostility to the United States itself — indeed it often claims to be the only true champion of the United States — but to a sophomoric denial of its basic principle of equal justice and opportunity. Among liberals, this denial takes the form of a belief that the United States was never really about equal justice but rather securing the position of a privileged few. Among conservatives, this denial takes the form of economic and political expediencies the effect of which secures their own prosperity at the cost of others’. Both denials are fundamental betrayals of what it means to be American, and it is no coincidence that the liberal denial is grounded in our relation to history while the conservative is grounded in our relation to the future.

I am not interested in laying blame or even an excess of criticism for the conflicts and anger of the present. My interest is in how we can reclaim the optimism and idealism of our common American past, how we can all together advance the true American dream that we as a collection of diverse peoples can promote the prosperity of one another not outside the motivations of our various groups and interests but in cooperation with them. How do we do that? What does that look like?

Whatever I may think the answers may be, it is surely true that we all must do what we can to promote the common good.

All I can say in addition to that is that I am absolutely certain there is no group that cannot add something to the life and prosperity of the United States. Everyone is necessary from the pettiest, low-life, money-pinching businessman to the smelliest, most ill-informed hippy feminist. (I choose my bogeymen carefully to be caricatured constructs held by opposing factions.) The weight of diversity is that we must encounter and entertain fearlessly and in the peaceful certainty of who each of us are as individuals the ideas of those who would seem to be repugnant and evil. We must hear them and fully consider what they say. Only then can we decide what action must be taken.

This is not to say either that listening is all we must do. The simple motivation to build a nation together is not enough. We must have plans and protocols in place to manage the interactions of the various motivations pertinent to our various groups. I do not mean regulation but rather codes of conduct, understood rules of engagement that will allow the interaction of potentially conflicting motivations to result in an enriched life for all concerned. At one time, there was a common culture of manners and fair play that informed such interactions, but I believe it fair to say that we have left such a culture behind and must find a new code to inform how we relate to one another across these group boundaries.

If we cannot do this. If our motivations, confirmed and supported by the groups to which we belong, cannot at least meet in this one great social impulse to form a single nation, then the great experiment of the United States has failed, and we must prepare for the cataclysms which will rend it along the lines demarcated by our smaller interests.

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